The battle of two first place teams occurred when the Vancouver Canucks (26-13-3) came into BankAtlantic Center to face the Florida Panthers (20-13-8). Since the Panthers do not face the Canucks often in fact this will be the only time this year barring playoffs, that these two will face each other. This was a good test for the Cats.
Statistically the Vancouver Canucks lead the Panthers in every category and are the premiere team of the league with the league leading power play #1 ranking. That being the case it was imperative that the Panthers not commit any penalties and play solid team defense and not give up any odd man rushes. Yet the first goal of the game came on a Vancouver two on one rush which Clemmensen had no chance on. Not your usual name by Dale Weise scored from a Malhotra feed.
Also with Jose Theodore out the Panthers were going in with a severe disadvantage facing the Canucks with their high potent offence. The Canucks are ranked third in the league with goals scored per game. If that were not enough the Canucks have the Sedins who are both within the top five in the league with scoring points. I was worried the Panthers maybe over powered.
I was also curious to see if there was any residual animosity since Campbell, Versteeg, Madden and Kopecky all came from the Chicago Blackhawks and were fully entrenched in that heated rivalry when they were in Chicago. If there was any it was not evident until LaPierre tried to engage Campbell but was meet by Matthias. I was almost hoping they would play Chelsea Dagger just to get in Luongo’s head.
But one thing you can always count on is Luongo being Luongo. It’s easy to see why the Canucks have been going with Schneider as Luongo was giving up too many rebounds and second chances. In the second period Kulikov tied the game with a knuckler that beat Bobby Lu high. Then on a power play of their own, the Panthers scored with a lot of traffic out front Goc scored on a goal crease scramble. Luongo down and out had no chance on this one. The Panthers totally dominated the second period as they held the Canucks to only 2 SOG in the period.
You knew going into the third period the Canucks would come out and throw everything at the Panthers. They would be taking more chances and would be pushing the pace with pinching defensemen. I have to give a shout out to Brian Campbell with a diving stick check in his own zone to break up a possible disaster and keeping his team in the lead.
The difference in this game was the Panthers somehow were able to contain the Canucks high octane power play and in fact had better chances to score shorthanded themselves. The Canucks went 0 for three on the power play. The Panthers played good overall team defense and had good positioning and active sticks in their own zone and were able to win the battles along their boards. Clemmensen was sharp stopping 25 of 26 shots and giving up very little in rebounds.
The significance of this game for Florida is they proved they are for real. After losing to the league leading New York Rangers there may have been questions if the Panthers are really for real. I think with this game they proved they are indeed the real thing. This team has battle through injuries and faced adversity as a team and has come through the other side. They turned in a gutsy performance tonight against one of the best teams in the NHL. Florida you should be excited as this team is solid defensively and as long as you are you can play with the best of them which will be of more significance in April.